Autistic Disorder and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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The present case study examined an adolescent boy who initially was evaluated at our clinic and was found to meet DSM-III-R criteria for autistic disorder. After placement in a residential school using Daily Life Therapy for autistic disorder, the subject reported being physically abused by a staff member. Additional psychiatric evaluation revealed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) including symbolic anxiety and repetition of the trauma. The diagnosis of PTSD should be considered in children with autistic disorder and other severe developmental disorders who have experienced physical and sexual abuse. Furthermore, parents, professionals, educators, and child care workers struggle with emotional reactions to children with severe developmental disorders and may have difficulty accepting the reality of the child rather than the fantasy of the “wished-for child.‘’ The disappointment of this fantasy and the equating of the child's weaknesses as one's own may lead to personal devaluation and increase the risk of abusive behavior. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry, 1993, 32, 6:1292–1294.

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